Fashion in fiction

Do you ever wonder what your favourite characters from classic fiction might have had in their clothes closets? How would Jane Eyre have dressed herself to impress Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s novel? Or what would Anne of Green Gables have looked like wearing turn of the century puffed sleeves? 

I recently visited the Charleston Museum, which is answering these questions in a six month exhibit (October 2013 to April 2014) in its Historic Textiles Gallery. Called “Fashion in Fiction,” a timeline displays 19th century dresses, suits, hats and shoes from the museum’s collection and pairs them with literature’s most popular characters.

The exhibit includes the Empire waist of a sprigged muslin dress that Eliza Bennett may have donned in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; the hooped skirt of a taffeta dress that Jo March could have worn in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women; and the bustle of an embroidered silk dress that Countess Olenska may have flaunted in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

It was interesting to picture my favourite characters in these clothes, but it was even better to envision myself in them. I had the opportunity to try on a hoop skirt, which I had always wondered what it would feel like to wear. The skirt wasn’t heavy at all, and the hoops bent with me when I sat down and walked through doors. But I ruined the ladylike effect of my walk when I kept stepping on the edge of the hem. So much for pretending to be Scarlett O’Hara!

See more about the Fashion in Fiction exhibit at the Charleston Museum.